Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition


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[4] The word here rendered "assembly" is the Semitic loan-word
/buhrum/, in Babylonian /puhrum/, the term employed for the
"assembly" of the gods both in the Babylonian Creation Series and
in the Gilgamesh Epic. Its employment in the Sumerian Version, in
place of its Sumerian equivalent /ukkin/, is an interesting
example of Semitic influence. Its occurrence does not necessarily
imply the existence of a recognized Semitic Version at the period
our text was inscribed. The substitution of /buhrum/ for /ukkin/
in the text may well date from the period of Hammurabi, when we
may assume that the increased importance of the city-council was
reflected in the general adoption of the Semitic term (cf. Poebel,
/Hist. Texts/, p. 53).

In the Semitic Version Ut-napishtim, who tells the story in the first
person, then says that he "understood", and that, after assuring Ea
that he would carry out his commands, he asked how he was to explain
his action to "the city, the people, and the elders"; and the god told
him what to say. Then follows an account of the building of the ship,
introduced by the words "As soon as the dawn began to break". In the
Sumerian Version the close of the warning, in which the ship was
probably referred to, and the lines prescribing how Ziusudu carried
out the divine instructions are not preserved.

It will be seen that in the passage quoted from the Semitic Version
there is no direct mention of a dream; the god is represented at first
as addressing his words to a "house of reeds" and a "wall", and then
as speaking to Ut-napishtim himself. But in a later passage in the
Epic, when Ea seeks to excuse his action to Enlil, he says that the
gods' decision was revealed to Atrakhasis through a dream.[1] Dr.
Poebel rightly compares the direct warning of Ut-napishtim by Ea in
the passage quoted above with the equally direct warning Ziusudu
receives in the Sumerian Version. But he would have us divorce the
direct warning from the dream-warning, and he concludes that no less
than three different versions of the story have been worked together
in the Gilgamesh Epic. In the first, corresponding to that in our
text, Ea communicates the gods' decision directly to Ut-napishtim; in
the second he sends a dream from which Atrakhasis, "the Very Wise
one", guesses the impending peril; while in the third he relates the
plan to a wall, taking care that Ut-napishtim overhears him.[2] The
version of Berossus, that Kronos himself appears to Xisuthros in a
dream and warns him, is rejected by Dr. Poebel, who remarks that here
the "original significance of the dream has already been obliterated".
Consequently there seems to him to be "no logical connexion" between
the dreams or dream mentioned at the close of the Third Column and the
communication of the plan of the gods at the beginning of the Fourth
Column of our text.[3] [1] Cf. l. 195 f.; "I did not divulge the decision of the great gods.
I caused Atrakhasis to behold a dream and thus he heard the
decision of the gods."

[2] Cf. Poebel, /Hist. Texts/, p. 51 f. With the god's apparent
subterfuge in the third of these supposed versions Sir James
Frazer (/Ancient Stories of a Great Flood/, p. 15) not inaptly
compares the well-known story of King Midas's servant, who, unable
to keep the secret of the king's deformity to himself, whispered
it into a hole in the ground, with the result that the reeds which
grew up there by their rustling in the wind proclaimed it to the
world (Ovid, /Metamorphoses/, xi, 174 ff.).

[3] Op. cit., p. 51; cf. also Jastrow, /Heb. and Bab. Trad./, p. 346.

So far from Berossus having missed the original significance of the
narrative he relates, I think it can be shown that he reproduces very
accurately the sense of our Sumerian text; and that the apparent
discrepancies in the Semitic Version, and the puzzling references to a
wall in both it and the Sumerian Version, are capable of a simple
explanation. There appears to me no justification for splitting the
Semitic narrative into the several versions suggested, since the
assumption that the direct warning and the dream-warning must be
distinguished is really based on a misunderstanding of the character
of Sumerian dreams by which important decisions of the gods in council
were communicated to mankind. We fortunately possess an instructive
Sumerian parallel to our passage. In it the will of the gods is
revealed in a dream, which is not only described in full but is
furnished with a detailed interpretation; and as it seems to clear up
our difficulties, it may be well to summarize its main features.

The occasion of the dream in this case was not a coming deluge but a
great dearth of water in the rivers, in consequence of which the crops
had suffered and the country was threatened with famine. This occurred
in the reign of Gudea, patesi of Lagash, who lived some centuries
before our Sumerian document was inscribed. In his own inscription[1] he tells us that he was at a loss to know by what means he might
restore prosperity to his country, when one night he had a dream; and
it was in consequence of the dream that he eventually erected one of
the most sumptuously appointed of Sumerian temples and thereby
restored his land to prosperity. Before recounting his dream he
describes how the gods themselves took counsel. On the day in which
destinies were fixed in heaven and earth, Enlil, the chief of the
gods, and Ningirsu, the city-god of Lagash, held converse; and Enlil,
turning to Ningirsu, described the sad condition of Southern
Babylonia, and remarked that "the decrees of the temple Eninnû should
be made glorious in heaven and upon earth", or, in other words, that
Ningirsu's city-temple must be rebuilt. Thereupon Ningirsu did not
communicate his orders directly to Gudea, but conveyed the will of the
gods to him by means of a dream.

[1] See Thureau-Dangin, /Les inscriptions de Sumer et d'Akkad/, Cyl.
A, pp. 134 ff., Germ. ed., pp. 88 ff.; and cf. King and Hall, /Eg.
and West. Asia/, pp. 196 ff.

It will be noticed that we here have a very similar situation to that
in the Deluge story. A conference of the gods has been held; a
decision has been taken by the greatest god, Enlil; and, in
consequence, another deity is anxious to inform a Sumerian ruler of
that decision. The only difference is that here Enlil desires the
communication to be made, while in the Deluge story it is made without
his knowledge, and obviously against his wishes. So the fact that
Ningirsu does not communicate directly with the patesi, but conveys
his message by means of a dream, is particularly instructive. For here
there can be no question of any subterfuge in the method employed,
since Enlil was a consenting party.

The story goes on to relate that, while the patesi slept, a vision of
the night came to him, and he beheld a man whose stature was so great
that it equalled the heavens and the earth. By the diadem he wore upon
his head Gudea knew that the figure must be a god. Beside the god was
the divine eagle, the emblem of Lagash; his feet rested upon the
whirlwind, and a lion crouched upon his right hand and upon his left.
The figure spoke to the patesi, but he did not understand the meaning
of the words. Then it seemed to Gudea that the Sun rose from the
earth; and he beheld a woman holding in her hand a pure reed, and she
carried also a tablet on which was a star of the heavens, and she
seemed to take counsel with herself. While Gudea was gazing, he seemed
to see a second man, who was like a warrior; and he carried a slab of
lapis lazuli, on which he drew out the plan of a temple. Before the
patesi himself it seemed that a fair cushion was placed, and upon the
cushion was set a mould, and within the mould was a brick. And on the
right hand the patesi beheld an ass that lay upon the ground. Such was
the dream of Gudea, and he was troubled because he could not interpret
it.[1] [1] The resemblance its imagery bears to that of apocalyptic visions
of a later period is interesting, as evidence of the latter's
remote ancestry, and of the development in the use of primitive
material to suit a completely changed political outlook. But those
are points which do not concern our problem.

To cut the long story short, Gudea decided to seek the help of Ninâ,
"the child of Eridu", who, as daughter of Enki, the God of Wisdom,
could divine all the mysteries of the gods. But first of all by
sacrifices and libations he secured the mediation of his own city-god
and goddess, Ningirsu and Gatumdug; and then, repairing to Ninâ's
temple, he recounted to her the details of his vision. When the patesi
had finished, the goddess addressed him and said she would explain to
him the meaning of his dream. Here, no doubt, we are to understand
that she spoke through the mouth of her chief priest. And this was the
interpretation of the dream. The man whose stature was so great, and
whose head was that of a god, was the god Ningirsu, and the words
which he uttered were an order to the patesi to rebuild the temple
Eninnû. The Sun which rose from the earth was the god Ningishzida, for
like the Sun he goes forth from the earth. The maiden who held the
pure reed and carried the tablet with the star was the goddess Nisaba;
the star was the pure star of the temple's construction, which she
proclaimed. The second man, who was like a warrior, was the god Nibub;
and the plan of the temple which he drew was the plan of Eninnû; and
the ass that lay upon the ground was the patesi himself.[1] [1] The symbolism of the ass, as a beast of burden, was applicable to
the patesi in his task of carrying out the building of the temple.

The essential feature of the vision is that the god himself appeared
to the sleeper and delivered his message in words. That is precisely
the manner in which Kronos warned Xisuthros of the coming Deluge in
the version of Berossus; while in the Gilgamesh Epic the apparent
contradiction between the direct warning and the dream-warning at once
disappears. It is true that Gudea states that he did not understand
the meaning of the god's message, and so required an interpretation;
but he was equally at a loss as to the identity of the god who gave
it, although Ningirsu was his own city-god and was accompanied by his
own familiar city-emblem. We may thus assume that the god's words, as
words, were equally intelligible to Gudea. But as they were uttered in
a dream, it was necessary that the patesi, in view of his country's
peril, should have divine assurance that they implied no other
meaning. And in his case such assurance was the more essential, in
view of the symbolism attaching to the other features of his vision.
That this is sound reasoning is proved by a second vision vouchsafed
to Gudea by Ningirsu. For the patesi, though he began to prepare for
the building of the temple, was not content even with Ninâ's
assurance. He offered a prayer to Ningirsu himself, saying that he
wished to build the temple, but had received no sign that this was the
will of the god; and he prayed for a sign. Then, as the patesi lay
stretched upon the ground, the god again appeared to him and gave him
detailed instructions, adding that he would grant the sign for which
he asked. The sign was that he should feel his side touched as by a
flame,[1] and thereby he should know that he was the man chosen by
Ningirsu to carry out his commands. Here it is the sign which confirms
the apparent meaning of the god's words. And Gudea was at last content
and built the temple.[2] [1] Cyl. A., col. xii, l. 10 f.; cf. Thureau-Dangin, op. cit., p. 150
f., Germ. ed., p. 102 f. The word translated "side" may also be
rendered as "hand"; but "side" is the more probable rendering of
the two. The touching of Gudea's side (or hand) presents an
interesting resemblance to the touching of Jacob's thigh by the
divine wrestler at Peniel in Gen. xxxii. 24 ff. (J or JE). Given a
belief in the constant presence of the unseen and its frequent
manifestation, such a story as that of Peniel might well arise
from an unexplained injury to the sciatic muscle, while more than
one ailment of the heart or liver might perhaps suggest the touch
of a beckoning god. There is of course no connexion between the
Sumerian and Hebrew stories beyond their common background. It may
be added that those critics who would reverse the /rôles/ of Jacob
and the wrestler miss the point of the Hebrew story.

[2] Even so, before starting on the work, he took the further
precautions of ascertaining that the omens were favourable and of
purifying his city from all malign influence.

We may conclude, then, that in the new Sumerian Version of the Deluge
we have traced a logical connexion between the direct warning to
Ziusudu in the Fourth Column of the text and the reference to a dream
in the broken lines at the close of the Third Column. As in the
Gilgamesh Epic and in Berossus, here too the god's warning is conveyed
in a dream; and the accompanying reference to conjuring by the Name of
Heaven and Earth probably represents the means by which Ziusudu was
enabled to verify its apparent meaning. The assurance which Gudea
obtained through the priest of Ninâ and the sign, the priest-king
Ziusudu secured by his own act, in virtue of his piety and practice of
divination. And his employment of the particular class of incantation
referred to, that which conjures by the Name of Heaven and Earth, is
singularly appropriate to the context. For by its use he was enabled
to test the meaning of Enki's words, which related to the intentions
of Anu and Enlil, the gods respectively of Heaven and of Earth. The
symbolical setting of Gudea's vision also finds a parallel in the
reed-house and wall of the Deluge story, though in the latter case we
have not the benefit of interpretation by a goddess. In the Sumerian
Version the wall is merely part of the vision and does not receive a
direct address from the god. That appears as a later development in
the Semitic Version, and it may perhaps have suggested the excuse, put
in that version into the mouth of Ea, that he had not directly
revealed the decision of the gods.[1] [1] In that case the parallel suggested by Sir James Frazer between
the reed-house and wall of the Gilgamesh Epic, now regarded as a
medium of communication, and the whispering reeds of the Midas
story would still hold good.

The omission of any reference to a dream before the warning in the
Gilgamesh Epic may be accounted for on the assumption that readers of
the poem would naturally suppose that the usual method of divine
warning was implied; and the text does indicate that the warning took
place at night, for Gilgamesh proceeds to carry out the divine
instructions at the break of day. The direct warning of the Hebrew
Versions, on the other hand, does not carry this implication, since
according to Hebrew ideas direct speech, as well as vision, was
included among the methods by which the divine will could be conveyed
to man.

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